In 2012 one of the pastors who had a huge impact on my life passed away. I wrote a note on Facebook called "From Fear to Faith" and thought I would edit it and share it here as we are living in times in which fear covered in anger is rampant. I hope that may someone struggling with fear might be comforted and find courage and peace in Jesus, just as I did.
In January of 1977 my husband and I moved to Mississippi so he could get his doctorate from State. Oh, we were young and moving across the country while I was pregnant with our first child. The night we arrived in Starkville, it was freezing cold, and I was very sick with a kidney infection. We followed the hospital signs to get to the emergency room. The doctor kept me in the hospital for several days, leaving my husband to unpack the U-Haul. A guy he had met at a conference happened to drive and see Joel unloading the trailer. He stopped and helped him and then invited him to dinner with some guys from his church. He got there and met their pastor, who was nicknamed Nap. For a year, we attended another church that had more young student couples and forged some great friendships, but after a year most of them were finished school and left. One of the men we knew told us that because I had such a thirst for Bible knowledge that Emmanuel Baptist Church would help me find the answers to the questions I had. We to the little Baptist Church, where Nap taught verse by verse at least four times a week and stayed there for seven years.
When we first attended, I was very fearful, but if anyone would have asked if I was a believer I would have said yes. Maybe I was a believer, but if I was a believer, I was a terrified one. Every time I sinned or even thought I might have sinned, I confessed over and over and asked Jesus into my heart again and again and again. Right after we married, we had heard some preaching on the Book of Revelation, and I woke up several times crying from nightmares about end times. When I arrived at Emmanuel, I was still fearful and trying desperately to be good, thinking I could earn God's love and bet to heaven.
About the time I began to relax and enjoy our new church, Nap announced he would begin a series on the book of Revelation. I was struggling with my parent's divorce so I went in to talk to him about that and during that conversation I also told him about my fear of the Book of the Revelation and told him I wasn't sure I could handle the series. He suggested I read the little book, Come Lord, Jesus by Mark G. Cambron and then come talk to him. I began to see the grace of God in that little book on Revelation and how it matched what Nap was preaching on Sundays. We met many times and talked about the gospel and eternal security and a bunch about the love of God. Over time, I realized I believed what God said in His Word and that Christ's payment for sin was enough to secure my salvation.
I fell in love with Jesus during the time I spent at that church. I hungered and thirsted to know everything about Him and had to have driven Nap crazy with questions, but he was patient and loving and kind to this needy young believer. I loved his bear hugs as they were tight and purely given. I loved his love of the Savior. It never ever waned, no matter what came his way. I loved his love of God's grace and a pure gospel. I loved his style of teaching and answering the questions I and many others had, because his answers were never his thoughts or opinions, they were straight from the Word! I loved the consistency of his teaching; the truth never changing as he moved from book to book...it was always grace. And he lived out that grace even in the mundane parts of his life. He fiercely protected the flock with which God had entrusted him. His heart grieved as many of his flock were moved to other parts of the world, but he still considered us a part of his Emmanual family.
I remember one time he was preaching on the persecuted church, I went up to him afterward and told him, "Nap, I don't have to worry about anyone persecuting me, because I always prostitute myself." He responded with, "I know, Babe!" but his eyes were twinkling like crazy. So, I quickly thought through what I had just said and got embarrassed. I screamed, "NO!" and he chuckled and said, "I didn't think you meant what you said." I typed the bulletin for several years and I often made him special bulletins with funny announcements he could not read to the church. But I knew he saw them when he came out with twinkle in his eye and a great big smile on his face.
The last week I lived in Starkville, I went by to see him one last time and I asked him some hard questions I had never voiced before about God's sovereignty over things like abuse. There were no glib answers give, but as I turned to leave, he called my name and I turned around, "Wendy, God is Good! Don't ever forget He is Good!" And I heard his voice say those same words over and over in my head when I went into counseling to recover from the pain in my past! Nap also listened to my pain when my best friend lost her babies then again when I lost her. I loved the sound of his voice when he taught. It was a slow southern drawl that calmed my anxious heart after someone broke into our home and comforted us as a church when we buried our loved ones.
One more thing I loved about Nap was that He never said things like, "Jesus, is coming back, you better get ready." He simply lived His life always excitedly looking for our Jesus to return. He was faithful until the very end. Nap was at a camp preaching and sharing the gospel and passed away later in the evening. That very night I was in a worship service, here in California and we sang one of his favorite songs, "Nothing but the Blood of Jesus" and my heart was full of joy as it reminded me of Nap and his impact on my faith, not realizing our gracious God was orchestrating that moment in my life at the time He was welcoming him home. I love that Jesus has riches to share with His faithful servant that bore so much fruit in His life.
I have lived in California with a contentment that is still slightly overshadowed by a homesickness for people who had become a loving spiritual family for this homesick, pregnant, scared wife. This last week I have seen a lot of pictures from Ikthoos, the Camp Nap and others started. The kids who were little campers when we lived there are all adults who are faithfully filling his footsteps as they love kids and teach them how to study the Word to lift their beautiful voices in praise.